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  • Writer's pictureSurviving Breast Cancer

Getting through the Holidays with Breast Cancer

By Kiara Ford

The holiday season is in full swing, bringing with it a fresh wave of stress. Holidays can be a demanding time for anyone, but for those with breast cancer, it creates a unique opportunity for anxiety and sadness.

If you are currently undergoing treatment, you may not have the energy or ability to keep up with your usual traditions. Those with metastatic breast cancer may be dreading that this could be their last holiday with their loved ones. What is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year can quickly devolve into a perfect storm for sorrow. 

The most important thing you can do to mitigate these difficult realities is to look after yourself first and foremost, even during the season of giving. Below are some tips on how to cope with the logistical and emotional stress of a holiday season with breast cancer.

Be aware of travel limitations.

Traveling to see loved ones is standard fare for the holidays. In December 2022, it was estimated that almost 113 million Americans planned to travel 50 miles or more between December 23 and January 2. While for many this travel is worthwhile for the payoff of spending the holidays with loved ones, for others it simply may not be possible due to breast cancer treatment. Patients are generally advised to wait a certain amount of time after chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment before traveling, and they face additional restrictions for flying after surgery. The exact parameters of these travel restrictions are individual and should be discussed with your care team. 

Beyond these basic safety considerations, side effects from breast cancer treatment could make long-distance travel unpleasant or painful. It can be heartbreaking to tell loved ones that travel is not possible at the moment. At the same time, it’s important to understand and respect your body’s limitations. 

Don’t be afraid to change the menu.

Food plays a major role in holiday celebrations. This might be panic-inducing if you have diet restrictions due to your cancer diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing nausea or vomiting due to chemotherapy, don’t pressure yourself to consume certain foods for the sake of tradition. It’s more important to maintain the dietary plan you’ve established with your care team.

If you are longing to eat, but perhaps fearful of carcinogens or inflammatory properties in certain foods, remember that food can be both delicious and healing. For specific recipes, this blog is a great place to look. This holiday season may be a great time to start incorporating new nutritious foods into your traditional spread. 

For holiday shopping, look online.

For a person with breast cancer, the notion of navigating holiday shopping crowds for the best deal can sound less like a bargain and more like a nightmare. Even just a quick trip to the mall may feel like you’re overexerting yourself. This is an excellent time to utilize modern technology. Many gifts can be found online, with numerous sites even offering gift wrapping for a small fee to save further hassle. This can be an excellent option if you’re looking to conserve energy and remove the pressure of holiday shopping. 

Communicate your needs and set your boundaries.

While the loved ones you see over the holidays will probably want to help and support you, they may not know how. In these situations, it’s often best to be honest about your abilities and needs. You may not be able to host an event or travel to see relatives. While these are disappointing realities, they are your lived experience and should be understood by those around you.

That being said, people are not mind readers. Consider taking time before the holidays to determine what will and will not be possible for you, and what you may need from others to get you through this time. Openly communicating these needs and boundaries prior to the holidays will help set realistic expectations for your loved ones and yourself.

Give yourself grace.

Remember that breast cancer is an extremely difficult experience, and there is no right or wrong way to respond to it. All emotions the holidays bring up are valid. Allow yourself a moment to hold space for them. Ultimately, the best thing is to do what is right for you. Whether it’s soaking in every second with your loved ones, or deferring visits to the new year, take this holiday season as a time to look after yourself.

Learn More:

On the Podcast: Breast Cancer Conversations

How to Get a Grip: Coping Strategies for Complicated Times

About the Author:

Kiara Ford is a recent graduate of Emerson College, where she majored in communication studies and minored in health and society. She is currently a community health worker trainee with the non-profit organization Asian Women for Health. She is passionate about patient advocacy and health equity, and hopes to raise awareness and increase understanding of patients’ rights through her work.

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